Each year, the Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent describes the familiar scene of Our Lord’s temptations in the desert. This year, we read and hear St. Mark’s account — a very brief account that omits many of the details and the nature of the temptations that the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke preserve.
Fr. deLadurantaye is director of the Office of Sacred Liturgy, secretary for diocesan religious education, a professor of theology at Notre Dame Graduate School and in residence at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington, Virginia.
(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)
St. Mark is usually very direct; he comes right to the point, the point he wants his audience to understand and meditate upon. In this week's Gospel passage, St. Mark's basic message focuses on the problem of obedience or disobedience to God.
No sooner had Jesus been baptized and revealed as the Father's beloved Son than “the Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert” to be tempted by Satan. The same Spirit who overshadowed the Lord at the Jordan River now thrusts Him into the desert for 40 days, a time of testing. In this scene, Jesus is portrayed as sharing in the same experience that every person shares: the experience of being tempted. None of us can escape temptation in this life, but the temptations we face are not meant to make us fall. Instead, temptation is meant to be a test from which we emerge stronger and more committed to doing the will of God.
Suppose a football player performs well enough to make the second team. A coach, who sees his potential, will not send him out to play against the third team; rather, the coach will test him by playing him against the first team so that the player will have a chance to prove himself. Temptation itself is not sin; it is the opportunity we have to prove ourselves, to show our fidelity to the Lord by adhering to His law, to His way of life.
When Our Lord was tempted by Satan, He found Himself in the same conflict that Adam (and all other human beings ever since) was faced with at the beginning: namely, to obey God's command or to give in to Satan's suggestion of disobedience. Adam failed the test, but Christ did not. His victory over Satan marks a new beginning in human history. It is the time of a new creation, one in which the Father (through His Son) will bring about the final triumph of good over evil, of life over death. St. Mark here portrays Jesus as the obedient Son who remained in the right relationship with God throughout the period of temptation. We too, especially in this Lenten season, are called to the same stance of filial obedience, to live each day in a correct relationship with our heavenly Father by imitating the fidelity of Jesus Christ. In this way, we come to share in His victory over temptation, and we grow stronger in our own faith, hope and love.
It is immediately after His success in the desert that Christ undertakes His missionary work which consists in the proclamation of the “Gospel of God.” What is this “Gospel”? We find the answer in Our Lord's preaching. It is the Gospel, the good news, of truth and of hope, of peace and of immortality, of promise and of salvation. The Gospel gives us the power to live life victoriously and to conquer sin, so long as we remain in communion with Jesus Christ.
How do we receive what the Gospel promises? Again, we must take to heart the demands Jesus makes of all who would be His followers: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Repentance (which we will hear about a great deal during Lent) means a complete change of mind and heart. It means that we come to see sin as God sees it — something destructive, something that contradicts our own good — and choose, with all our strength, not to fall into sin. To believe in the Gospel means simply to take Jesus at His word, to believe that God is the kind of God Christ has told us about, to believe that God so loves the world that He will make any sacrifice to bring us back to Himself.
This is what the Lenten season is all about: to stand firm with Christ and thus prove our love for God by resisting all temptations to disobey Him; to recognize that in Jesus the Kingdom of God has come among us; and to take our place in that Kingdom through acts of real repentance and faith. If we take these lessons to heart, then this Lent will be a time of rich spiritual growth and profit for each of us.